In news: The United States announced support for waiving intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccines.
- The US is in the process of pursuing “text-based negotiations” on the waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
- Text-based negotiations involve negotiators exchanging texts with their preferred wording and then thrashing out a consensus on the working.
- All 164 WTO members must agree on the draft, and any one member can veto it.
- The IP waiver might open up space for production of Covid vaccines with emergency use authorisations (EUA) on a larger scale in middle-income countries.
- Countries including Canada, South Korea, and Bangladesh have shown interest in making Covid vaccines if they can get a patent waiver.
- The US support for an IP waiver stems from a proposal by India and South Africa in the WTO in 2020 to waive certain conditions of the TRIPS agreement.
- The proposal had called for a waiver on all Covid interventions, including testing diagnostics and novel therapeutics.
Deterrents for the waiver-
- Pharma companies had opposed the proposed waiver as eliminating IP protections would “undermine the global response to the pandemic”, including the ongoing efforts to tackle new variants.
- Eliminating protections would not speed up production.
- It would not be feasible for a company to move vaccines to a developing nation.
- A patent represents a powerful intellectual property right, and is an exclusive monopoly granted by a government to an inventor for a limited, pre-specified time (20 years).
- It provides an enforceable legal right to prevent others from copying the invention.
- Patents can be either process patents or product patents.
- A product patent ensures that the rights to the final product is protected, and anyone other than the patent holder can be restrained from manufacturing it during a specified period, even if they were to use a different process.
- A process patent enables any person other than the patent holder to manufacture the patented product by modifying certain processes in the manufacturing exercise.
- India moved from product patenting to process patenting in the 1970s, which enabled India to become a significant producer of generic drugs at global scale.
However, India amended the Patents Act in 2005, and switched to a product patents regime across the pharma, chemicals, and biotech sectors.